Girls Varsity Volleyball to Compete at State after Winning Super-Sectionals

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By Adisa Ozegovic

The Niles West’s girls varsity volleyball team will be competing at Illinois State University on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8:30 p.m. for the state championship for the first time in school history after a nail-bitingly close victory at the super-sectionals match on Saturday, Nov. 5.

During super sectionals, the team played an aggressive game against Riverside Brookfield, a talented team with a 6’8″ player. The Wolves won the first match but lost the second one. They were losing the third and were only one point from having completely lost the game, until they began serving and slowly tied up the game to 24-24. The game was over with a score 31-29 and the Wolves becoming one of the top four teams in the state.

Before beginning the game, the girls were incredibly nervous. In order to ease the anxiousness and regain their confidence, the team made sure to keep their mind on their goal and focus on not letting any of the hard work they had done go to waste.

“I’ve never felt anything like it before. Before I went in, I would look down at my hand and I couldn’t stop shaking. Everyone was very nervous, but the moment you step on that court, it’s all about confidence. Coming back from being down 20-24 and knowing that a single mistake will end your season is the most nerve-wracking feeling,” co-captian of the team Nicole Zelazko said. “I looked my co-captain Eleni in the eye and told her that we were not losing this game and, from that moment, a switch turned on and everyone knew that we could do this if we put everything into it. After being down and coming back, we all realized we worked so hard since July, and that nothing would make us give up on a single point or on this team.”

The team’s success can be attributed to the unshakable determination that the girls have this season. Though the past teams have been capable of achieving such an accomplishment, the further involvement of the seniors and the serious approach of the players since even before the season started has led the girls to achieve such remarkable highs in the school’s volleyball history.

“It was all about the attitude. We had a talented team last year, and every one of the starters this year were on the team last year. I feel as if the potential was there, but we were not nearly as close of a team as we are now,” Zelazko said. “The seniors are a lot more involved and everyone is taking this seriously. We knew we could make it far with the talent we have, and so we decided to make sure everyone was on the same page since July during camp. We all are striving for the same goals and we all genuinely want success, and that’s the major key to our winning streak.”

Even though the team has suffered losses throughout the season, Zelazko believes that losing has been a key preparation technique for sectionals. The first three games against New Trier, which the girls lost, have led them into becoming even more determined to win, because they all acquired a mutual hatred for losing.

“I think that the most important games we played were the three against New Trier. We lost to them three times in the regular season, and all those games were very hyped up and close. We were all super focused on winning, and those were the games we all wanted to win and prepared mentally the most for,” Zelazko said. “Those losses made us realize what it feels like to want something very bad and not have it, and we decided to never want to feel that again. We played New Trier in the regional finals and a revenge mindset kicked in. Beating the Trevians was the ‘hump,’ and ever since, we have played flawless games.”

West is very proud of the girl’s accomplishments and the determined dedication they put into the sport. Going to state is not only something that’s beneficial for volleyball, but also something that’s beneficial for the entire school.

“We’re extremely proud of the work and the dedication of the girls,” athletic director Kendall Griffin said. “We knew going into this year that the girls had talent, and we expected them to compete this year at the conference championships. We’re one of the top conferences in the state with some of the best teams — New Trier and Glenbrook South. They’d hit their stride at the right time, and you see this in sports where a light-bulb just comes on. They have exceeded their own expectations this year, and to have them get to this level is something that’s just good for the school, good for the kids, and good for the program as a whole.”

Since they are ranked the fourth team, they are considered the underdogs. Zelazko believes that this will just motivate the team even more because they are eager to prove the other teams wrong.

“Of course we know that now being top four in the state, the teams we’ll be playing are very good,” Zelazko said. “We were ranked fourth out of the four, so we are coming in as the underdogs, but we always work better with the mindset of wanting to prove people wrong.”

Although the primary goal is to win at the games, the girls are also focused on enjoying the sport and maintaining an encouraging, supportive, and unwavering confident attitude.

“Our main goal is to keep positive and try our best,” co-captain Kaila Johanson said. “Obviously it would be nice to come home with a win, but it’s an honor to be at state as it is. We just want to work hard and come out on top. “